UW News

November 12, 2015

David Shields addresses New York Times coverage in new book ‘War is Beautiful’

UW News

"War is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict" was published Nov. 10 by Powerhouse Books.

“War is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict” was published Nov. 10 by Powerhouse Books.Powerhouse Books

War photography in The New York Times entranced David Shields for years as a daily reader, but that attraction in time evolved into “a mixture of rapture, bafflement and repulsion,” he writes in the introduction to his latest book, “War is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict.”

“Over time,” Shields wrote, “I realized that these photos glorified war through an unrelenting parade of beautiful images whose function is to sanctify the accompanying descriptions of battle, death, destruction and displacement.”

The book, published this month by Powerhouse Books, is subtitled “(in which the author explains why he no longer reads the New York Times).” Shields is a University of Washington professor of English and a best-selling author.

Shields book events
Book signing and conversation with Jonathan Lethem
7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 13
Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., Seattle
More events listed at the author’s website.

The book includes 64 color photographs — culled from about 700 he chose in all — taken by New York Times photographers since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

In an interview with UW alumna Rita Banerjee published at Electric Literature, Banerjee suggests to Shields that “The purposes of the Times have become indistinguishable from the purposes of the government.”

“I think that is what is dangerous about the book, and why I’m proud of it,” Shields replies. “It does try to unravel this very complicated message that the Times sends.”

Shields said the newspaper on the one hand “pretends to be a paragon of the Fourth Estate,” but on the other hand “is hugely obeisant to the United States government and is hugely intertwined with the U.S. government’s imperialist ambitions.”

Critics have praised the book. Ira Glass of NPR called it “a surprisingly cinematic work of journalism — sometimes disturbingly so.” Another reviewer called it “an extremely strong work of curatorial wizardry.”

Shields’ many previous books include “How Literature Saved My Life” in 2013, and
“Reality Hunger: A Manifesto” in 2010.


 To learn more about “War is Beautiful” or other work by Shields, contact him at dshields@davidshields.com.